School Board Socked with ACLU Suit in Brautigan Book-Banning Incident

by Bertha M. Cheatham?

In a suit filed in Superior Court by the San Francisco American Civil Liberties Union on October 5, the banning of five books written by Richard Brautigan from Anderson Union High School in Northern California was challenged by two teachers, three students and Brautigan's hard cover publisher, Seymour Lawrence. According to Margaret Crosby, one of the two ACLU attorneys representing the plaintiffs, Anderson principal, J.D. Leitaker confiscated the books The Abortion and The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster because the titles suggested that the books might contain obscenities and objectionable sexual references. The books had been used (without complaint) for several years in a developmental reading class, an elective for students who want to expand their reading interests and backgrounds. Subsequently, all Brautigan titles were banned from the student's optional reading lists, including Trout Fishing in America (on ALA's 1975 Young Adult Notable Books list), Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt, and A Confederate General from Big Sur.

Crosby said that the school followed a review procedure in which two councils read the books and decided most were not appropriate for students. One title, Revenge of the Lawn, was restored. Ironically, this review procedure, part of Anderson's academic freedom policy, was set up eight years ago when the school board battled over the banning of Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, which is now back on the library shelf. Last year, the board banned The Omen and The Exorcist.

The suit marks the first time that a publisher has become involved in a book banning case of this type, said Crosby, who believes that the publisher's constitutional rights are being infringed: "He has a right to be published free of government censorship." The issue in the case is not the literary quality of the Brautigan novels, said Crosby, but "whether a school board can suddenly and arbitrarily ban certain books that have been in use for some time because of the school board members' own moral, social, or political views."

Crosby and Ann Brick, an ACLU cooperative lawyer, expect the case will set a precedent for future book-banning occurrences in California, which has no law specifying the limitations on school boards' authority in restricting reading materials. (8)

School Library Journal? 25(4)
December 1978: 8